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Owens Intermediate School 4th grade GATE teacher Nikki Mailer teaching on the first day of school.

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Nikki Mailer in her 4th grade GATE class on the first day of school at Owens Intermediate School.

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Felix Adamo/The Californian

Owens Intermediate School 4th grade GATE teacher Nikki Mailer.

Nikki Mailer, a fourth-grade teacher at Owens Intermediate School, instructed a group of 24 fourth-graders Monday on what was their first day back to school following summer break.

She told them they are family to her.

"'Whatever you need from this point on, I'm here,'" she said.

They were the same words she once told former Owens Intermediate student Antonio Delgado, now an 18-year-old incoming freshman at San Diego State University.

Mailer proved she meant it.

She recently organized a fundraising effort to help Delgado -- the son of former migrant farm workers -- pay for books, an HP laptop and an iPad Mini to use in college.

Teachers and other staff members gave $25 and $100 donations in the drive Mailer described as common for educators.

"Teachers all over the place do the same thing," she said. "We buy jackets when kids need jackets and shoes when our kids need shoes."

Delgado, who leaves for San Diego State Friday, needed books.

He wants to major in mechanical engineering and is working at Grimmway Farms to help fund his education. He is receiving two loans, a grant and federal student aid to cover the majority of his education costs.

His dad's social security check is his family's only income source, Delgado said. So when Mailer handed him the laptop and mini tablet Sunday, Delgado said he didn't know what to say.

"Not many people would do that for a kid that lives in the hood, in the east side," he said Monday.

Mailer, who has kept in contact with Delgado over the years and even helped him write required college essays, knew he needed help paying for college expenses. Her parents and husband volunteered. Then she sent emails to a few Owens Intermediate teachers for their help.

Before long, the effort mushroomed.

When word spread to John Peterson, a computer education specialist at both Owens Primary and Intermediate schools, he contacted a BCSD technology supplier and got a $1,200 laptop reduced to $350 for Delgado. The iPad Mini cost about $400, Peterson said. And Mailer will be depositing about $150 in Delgado's student account for books.

Peterson taught the student in grades two through six. Each year the computer teacher would have teachers pick their best students to participate in his after-school computer club, and each year Delgado's teachers would pick him.

"You can really see he understood the importance of education, even as a third-grader," Peterson said.

As a soon-to-be college freshman, Delgado often visits the school to assist his former teacher and help his sister, a sixth-grader at Owens Intermediate, with homework.

"She looks up to me a lot, so I want her to know if you want to get somewhere in life, education is the way to go," Delgado said.

It is a philosophy Delgado's elementary school teachers said explained his tireless work ethic.

Kathleen Smith, his sixth-grade teacher, said Delgado entered her class as an English-language learner, Spanish being his first language.

He earned the BCSD O. D. Williams award for outstanding sixth-grade boys.

"He just tried so hard," said Smith, who contributed $100 to the cause.

BCSD teachers and staff members from union president Michelle Johnson to Owens Intermediate secretary Maria Villalpando also contributed.

Mailer said her husband, Robert Mailer, drove Delgado to his college orientation when the student's father was not able to go, and her parents bought him bedding for his dorm room and clothing.

"He's the most respectful and grateful kid you'd ever meet," Mailer said.

Villalpando said she gave $100.

"If anyone's deserving of help, it's him," she said.